'Suppression of independent media killing democracy'

Analysts say the emerging stance of new media in the country could discredit the achievements of democracy.

FILE: A television remote control. Picture: espensorvik/Flickr

JOHANNESBURG - As the owners of eTV say its editorial independence is non-negotiable, media analysts say there appear to have been a shift in the editorial stance towards government in the independent media sphere over the last few years.

In the last three years, the Gupta family started the New Age and ANN7, Independent Newspapers was bought by Iqbal Surve's Sekunjalo Consortium and there has been intense controversy over the role of Hlaudi Motsoeneng at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

On Monday, both Marcel Golding and former Health Minister Barbara Hogan resigned from eTV's parent company HCI claiming there had been attempts to force the channel to cover certain events.

Golding was suspended by HCI for buying shares in electronics company, Ellies, worth R24 million apparently without board approval.

Last week, Golding brought forward an urgent application to stop a disciplinary hearing against him for apparently buying shares without board authorisation.

Media Monitoring Africa head William Bird says there has been a chance of ownership at several commercial media organisations.

"Those things are probably broadly coincidental but certainly there is a clear effort to bring around media that are far friendlier towards government."

Media affairs website Grubstreet's Gill Moodie says there does seem to have been a change in editorial stance at some publications.

"It's going to be more serious, more difficult I think where we can't quite understand the position of a particular news organisation. The bigger picture here is that it's not good for democracy."

eTV is seen as a crucially important player because it's the only independent free to air television station that carries news broadcasts.

But government's Donald Liphoko denies they're responsible.

"We have a concerted effort to make sure that we publicise the work of government in as many platforms as we possibly can."

He says any changes in media ownership, have occurred voluntarily.